"Hiding and Seeking"


posted to www.marxmail.org on February 10, 2004


"Hiding and Seeking" opens with director Menachem Daum playing a tape for his two sons, who are both Orthodox Jews like him. It is a recording of a Brooklyn rabbi instructing his followers that the "only good goyim is a dead goyim". (A goyim is a non-Jew.)


Daum asks them for their reaction and is disappointed but not surprised to discover that they sympathize with the rabbi, while viewing their own relationship to the outside non-believing world more in terms of a desire for isolation rather than one based on animosity. Daum not only tells them that this clashes with his own vision of Judaism, but proceeds to spend the rest of this powerful documentary demonstrating that there is goodness in all human beings and that Jews must engage with rest of humanity with compassion.


He leads them on a spiritual trek to the Polish countryside where his wife's father and two uncles were hidden in a barn from the Nazis for over two years by Christian farmers. He wants to prove to them that ethical behavior can still be found in the face of general depravity. As long as that spark exists, there is hope for humanity. His sons, who are religious scholars living in Israel, treat the trip as a complete waste of time and speak directly to the camera about how foolish their father is.


Eventually they make their way to the farmhouse where Stanislaw and Honorata Mucha, the elderly protectors of the three brothers, still reside. A husband and wife ravaged by old age and a hard life begin to reconstruct the story of how they kept the three brothers in a pit covered by straw suggesting Saddam Hussein's "spider-hole" in an odd way. Of course, as occupying forces continue to round up Iraqi men with no regard for due process, such comparisons will begin to become less odd--especially when the recent "Iron Hammer" offensive has the same name as the Nazi "Eisenhammer" in the USSR.


Although stooped into the shape of the number seven, Honorata retains a keen memory of the time of the Nazi occupation, when protecting Jews could result in summary execution. Each night she would bring food out to the brothers, who would ascend from an opening covered by hay. During the long, cold winter months more and more hay would be fed to the horses and cows until only a thin layer remained over the pit.


Although I have not seen all of the films that deal with the Judeocide, I can say without reservation that this is the most moving even though it was shot on a modest budget and with a minimum of frills. Unlike most films which document the unremitting horror of the time, "Hiding and Seeking" dramatizes the willingness of ordinary people to take pity on their fellow human beings and act justly. It is also a film that conveys in an extraordinary way what it means to be Jewish. Menachem Daum has a profound sense of the holiness of the world, even when it is submerged in hatred and exploitation. The central drama of the film consists in his persistent but gentle pressure on his sons to convince them of this.


Daum's parents were survivors of Auschwitz who moved to Schenectady after WWII. Seeking to isolate himself from the outside gentile world, his orthodox father moved the family to Brooklyn in the 1950s where a number of Hasidic sects were developing self-sufficient communities. Despite his father's opposition, Daum attended Brooklyn College in the 1960s where he discovered that young people could be motivated by generosity and a love for humanity. He shows footage of a Vietnam antiwar protest to drive this point home.


Around this time he came under the influence of the late Shlomo Carlebach, a Hasidic rabbi who launched a congregation on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that challenged conventional Jewish ideas about spirituality and ethics. He was a folk-singer who would energize his services with traditional Hasidic songs mixed with spontaneous recitations of religious fables. On a website devoted to the memory of Shlomo Carlebach, you can find the following quote:


"After the Six Days War, I was one of the first people to walk into the Old City of Jerusalem. I walked up to every Arab, our cousins, and kissed them. I went to the top politicians in Israel and said, "We want to live in peace with the Arabs. As much as we need an army to make war, we need an army to make peace. Give me five thousand free plane tickets to bring holy hipp'lach [hippies] from San Francisco to here. We'll go to every Arab house in the country. We'll bring them flowers and tell them that we want to be brothers with them."


Eventually these sorts of statements and Carlebach's unconventional services brought the wrath of the Jewish establishment down on his head. He died in 1994, but his spirit lives on in the work of Menachem Daum. "Hiding and Seeking" is now playing at the Quad Cinema in NYC. Schedule information can be found at: http://www.quadcinema.com.


"Hiding and Seeking" website: http://www.hidingandseeking.com


Shlomo Carlebach Foundation: http://www.rebshlomo.org/